France has also been hit hard by protests. About a million French workers went on strike on January 29, as unions and opposition leaders protested their government’s handling of the economic crisis. Despite the disruption, the general strike was very popular; one poll found near 70 percent public support or sympathy for it. Europe is taking note. Such demonstrations brought down Iceland’s government—could they bring down others? It should be remembered that social unrest brought radical groups like the fascists and Nazis to power in European countries in the past.
The 45th Munich Security Conference made major news in February. A record number attended the highest-profile annual gathering of government, defense and security chiefs worldwide. Germany and France staged a show of unity. “We Europeans must speak even more with one voice,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a joint statement. They called for Europe to “further bundle and increase our capabilities, both civilian and military.” To highlight the partnership, German troops will now be stationed in France for the first time since World War II as part of the 5,000-strong joint rapid reaction force. European states working ever more closely together to “bundle and increase” their military capabilities fulfills a biblical prophecy we have highlighted for over 70 years. Soon, once again, Europe will be a major military player.
During the conference, delegates discussed topics such as nuclear disarmament and the future of nato in Afghanistan. Chancellor Merkel voiced her desire that Russia be more involved in Europe’s security. She called upon Europe to intensify the dialogue already begun by the nato-Russia Council and pay attention to Russian President Dimitry Medvedev’s earlier proposal for a regional pact for Europe that would include Moscow.
The Vatican continues to demonstrate its sway in Italian politics. The Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics attempted to display an advertisement saying, “The bad news is that God doesn’t exist, the good news is that you don’t need Him,” on buses in January. Similar ads have been unveiled in Spain, the UK and the U.S. In Italy, however, the government shut the campaign down. The union blames the Catholic Church. “Our Constitution says that there is no state religion, but in reality that isn’t the case,” said event organizer Giorgio Villella. A former member of Parliament stated that Italy is now “a clerical dictatorship.”
The German military is training a special unit of cyberwarriors, known as the Department of Information and Computer Network Operations, to scout out and destroy foreign computer networks. This unit of German cyberwarriors could pose a major security threat to American security and information systems in the future.
Turkey again demonstrated its hostility toward supposed ally Israel when its prime minister delivered a lengthy condemnation of the Jewish state at the World Economic Forum in Davao, Switzerland, in January. While Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speech was dismissed by some as a personal tirade, it is part of a significant and growing trend in Turkey. That nation’s geographic location and military power make it a pivotal country in the Middle East and give it the potential to cause great harm to Israel.
In advance of the U.S. swelling its forces in Afghanistan, and as the weather warms up, the Taliban is intensifying its fight against U.S. and nato forces. On February 11, it carried out multiple attacks on government buildings in Kabul. Suicide bombers and gunmen killed more than two dozen people and wounded nearly 60 in one of the most complex and bold attacks in the Afghan capital since 2001. Such attacks will likely continue, making the U.S. and nato’s job in Afghanistan increasingly difficult.
The Taliban also stepped up its attacks on nato supply lines into Afghanistan when it blew up a bridge along the main route in northwestern Pakistan on February 3. This was the first time the terrorists had attacked infrastructure, as opposed to the convoys or supplies themselves, in order to disrupt the flow of supplies through Pakistan. The attack highlights how unreliable the Pakistan supply route is, increasing pressure on the U.S. to look for alternatives as it seeks to intensify its efforts in Afghanistan. The alternatives, however, require America kowtowing to unfriendly powers—Russia and/or Iran.
Iran carried out its first successful satellite launch on February 3. Experts worldwide fear that Iran can now launch missiles into southern Europe. “The technology that is used to get this satellite into orbit,” said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrel, “is one that could also be used to propel long-range ballistic missiles.”
Meanwhile, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, reiterated President Barack Obama’s new approach to dealing with Iran: “direct diplomacy.” Though behind-the-scenes diplomacy has been going on for some time, the U.S. now wants to hold public direct talks.
The U.S. may even do a deal with Tehran to assist in its war in Afghanistan. Stratfor reported January 27 that “Iran has been heavily involved in arming the jihadist insurgency in Afghanistan …. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (irgc) also has plenty of intelligence that the United States would appreciate concerning the movements of al Qaeda operatives …. [W]ith the U.S. military focus shifting from Iraq to Afghanistan, there is strong potential for a meeting of the minds between these two on how to contain the Taliban and eradicate al Qaeda.” This of course would boost Tehran’s position in the region, a trend to watch closely due to its prophetic significance.
In Iraq’s January 31 provincial elections, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Coalition for the State of Law came out on top. Maliki, a Shiite Islamist with close ties to Iran but who campaigned as a secular nationalist, favors a strong central government. Though the more staunch Shiite religious parties did not do so well, Maliki and his Dawa party are still very pro-Iran. Just the previous month, Maliki had visited Iran and pledged closer cooperation, calling it Iraq’s “most important partner in all fields of cooperation.” A more unified Iraq will allow U.S. forces to leave Iraq even earlier than anticipated—which will benefit Iran.
Another high-priority project for Russia is the attempt to pull Ukraine back under its control. In February, Ukraine requested a $5 billion loan from Moscow to cover its budget deficit. The deteriorating Ukrainian economy simply cannot stand up under the high natural gas prices Russia is charging. Since the Europeans are in no position to bail out Ukraine, Kiev is being forced to look to Moscow for money. If this money does come, it will undoubtedly have strings attached—strings that will tie Ukraine to Russia.
The Kremlin has sent a clear message to U.S. President Obama that it fully intends to pull the former Soviet states of Central Asia back into its sphere of influence. On February 4, President Medvedev announced that the states of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan would be joining with Russia to form a collective security alliance on par with nato. This declaration came only one day after Kyrgyzstan announced its plans to evict the U.S. from the base it has been using to ferry American troops into Afghanistan. The Russians want to use the base for their own troops instead. Expect America to continue to lose ground in Central Asia as Russia moves back in.
The U.S. is urging Japan to reinterpret its pacifist constitution in order to allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to take on more global security responsibilities. On January 21, outgoing U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer urged Tokyo to become a stronger American ally against authoritarian regimes China and North Korea. The fact is, however, that Japan no longer regards its East Asian neighbors as enemies. In February 2008, Japan’s chief of the Joint Staff Office of the Self-Defense Forces met with China’s defense minister in Beijing; the two agreed to enhance their countries’ military cooperation. With its own state-of-the-art defense force and growing military alliance with China, Japan needs America as a military partner less and less. In the future, it will cooperate with its Asian neighbors instead. By exhorting Japan to increase its military spending, the U.S. is ultimately strengthening, not countering, its Asian rivals.
Latin America, Africa
China is continuing its efforts to develop strategic relationships in Latin America and Africa. In February, for the first time, three of its top leaders—the president, vice president and vice premier—took trips to those regions at the same time. Stratfor observed that “China is attempting to turn lemons into lemonade, converting the financial crisis into an opportunity to improve its long-term economic advantage and energy and food security” (February 11). It pointed out that China views any gains in Latin America as an opportunity to “take a bite out of U.S. trade with the region, [while] gaining new destinations for its exports.” Ultimately, we can expect Europe to sew up resources in both Latin America and Africa, but in the meantime, China is gradually eroding U.S. influence and economic power there.
In Bolivia, as President Evo Morales increases his control over the country, he faces opposition from two sources. The first, the media, he is doing his best to muzzle. He has also, however, stepped out against the Catholic Church.In March 2008, a group of Catholic bishops, the Bolivian Episcopal Conference, came out against him officially, saying that the “excessive concentration of power in the executive breaks the necessary balance and independence between the branches of government.” Catholicism is ubiquitous in Latin America, and its influence is profound. By warning the church to stay out of Bolivian politics, Morales guarantees his own days of power are numbered.
Acknowledging the failure of its economic practices, Zimbabwe dropped its control over foreign currencies in January, allowing businesses to accept U.S. dollars and other currencies. The finance minister also announced that Zimbabwe would drop price controls that have forced shop owners to sell staples at unsustainably low prices. According to a UN report, only 6 percent of the population is employed, and over half need emergency food aid. This has forced aid agencies to cut cereal rations in half so more people can receive aid.
The Zimbabwean cholera epidemic is now entrenched in South Africa as well: More than 3,000 South Africans are infected, and over 30 have died. More than 2,750 have died in Zimbabwe, and over 16,000 have contracted the disease.
On February 5, the U.S. Navy watched as pirates received payment in Somalia. The military even provided Associated Press with pictures. Pirates were paid $3.2 million in return for releasing one boat, the MV Faina. After expressing the military’s pleasure at the resolution of the situation, Vice Adm. Bill Gortney of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command stated that the Navy is working with the international community to “find a long-term, shore-based solution to this maritime crime.” In other words, it doesn’t plan to go after the pirates.
One of President Obama’s first executive orders in January was to close Guantánamo and cia secret prisons. Two former Guantánamo detainees—the number-two al Qaeda terrorist in Yemen, and an al Qaeda field commander—subsequently appeared on a jihad video, taunting America. Then Saudi Arabia announced it had re-arrested nine Islamist terrorists, including at least two former Guantánamo inmates.
In early February, California, the eighth-largest economy in the world, halted $3.5 billion that it had committed to pay to citizens, contractors, counties and others. With a $42 billion deficit through 2010, California has little choice. But the state’s counties threatened rebellion and said they will withhold their money. Some constitutional officers refused to accept Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s authority to make their employees work reduced hours.
As their economies get slammed by volatile markets, state governments are turning to an even shadier source of funds: gambling. Lawmakers in at least 14 states are considering proposals to expand slots or casinos. While income and sales tax revenues have fallen, some gambling revenues have remained comparatively steady, even during the recession. Casinos impoverish lower-income households, provide no long-term economic growth, foster crime, take money from other businesses, and cause gambling addiction problems. Turning to gambling to solve economic crises is a sure bet to make the problem worse.
In February, Dutch
The term “British school” is coming to mean something quite different from yesteryear’s smartly uniformed students speaking impeccable English and growing up to become builders of society. In fact, English is becoming a second language—literally. At 10 schools in England, not a single student speaks English as his or her first language. At nearly 600 other primary schools, 70 percent or more children primarily speak a foreign language. One in seven pupils ages 4 to 11 does not speak English as a first language; almost half a million children instead speak Middle Eastern or Eastern European languages.
The British school is not only a place where young people experiment with drugs, but they get taught how to. One National Drugs Education Program booklet is outraging parents. Know Cannabis includes advice on how to “properly” use marijuana paraphernalia and waits until page 14 of 20 to tell teens that cannabis is actually illegal, just before telling them that those under 18 can be arrested three times before they will be prosecuted.